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Literature / Beneath Nightmare Castle

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Beneath Nightmare Castle is the 25th entry in the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, written by Peter Darvill-Evans.

You are an adventurer and a mercenary, on the way to Neuburg, a city in Khul, intending to pay a visit to your old friend, Baron Tholdur, the Margrave of Neuburg Keep. However, as you approach the town, a pack of southern swordsmen attacks you and takes you prisoner. After freeing yourself, you find out that something strange is going on in Neuburg: foreign warriors patrols the streets, the natives look scared and pale and shapeless horrors prowls the city by night. Something terrible happened to Neuburg Keep and Baron Tholdur, an eldritch threat from a half-forgotten past has returned. It's up to you to find a way into the infested keep, investigate the source of this corruption and eradicate it before it extends its tendrils beyond Neuburg, all without losing your life or your mind to the skulking horrors infesting the dungeons.


Much like House of Hell, Beneath Nightmare Castle takes an approach closer to a horror story than a fantasy one; namely the grotesque alien madness of the Lovecraftian Horror such found in horror classics like The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness. Along with the usual scores of Skill, Stamina and Luck, you also start with a score of Willpower, which determines your sanity and will, which slowly decreases each time you have to roll a Willpower Test or you see something really disturbing or creepy. If your Willpower drops below 6 and you fail a test, you go insane from the ordeal and your quest is over.


Beneath Nightmare Castle provides examples of:

  • Advancing Boss of Doom: Sort of: the Vlodblad starts with a risible Skill score, but as he keeps advancing and spawning tentacles, he adds 2 points to said score for each round where you aren't able to harm him.
  • And I Must Scream: The Baron's daughter is very lucid and aware of her situation, but she cannot do anything for her predicament as the cursed armor she wears forces her to attack anyone who comes near.
  • Apologetic Attacker: The Spiked Maiden is compelled to attack anyone who comes near, and she profusely apologize for it as she attacks.
  • An Axe to Grind: The Runic Axe, owned by a Dwarf gardener: while it is a powerful, magical weapon, it also turns the wielder into a frenzied berserker unable to withdraw from a battle once he's engaged.
  • Back from the Dead: Xakhaz was thought dead and long defeated, his carcass sealed under the Keep. "Thought" being the keyword here...
  • The Berserker: People possessed by the Runic Axe or the Armor of Spikes are compelled to attack and fight blindly with no rest. On the good side, Oiden, God of Battle and Madness, is on your side and his priest will give you a Berserk Potion that increases your Skill of 4 for a single combat.
  • Big Bad: Xakhaz the evil, revenant sorcerer sealed under Neuburg Keep.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: The Tentacle Woman. It's not mentioned in the text, but can be seen in the removed illustration.
  • Blob Monster: Several of the disgusting creations of Xakhaz include the deadly Brain Defiler, the grotesque Death-Kiss Protoplasm and the obese Vlodblad. The Luminous Warrior is really a giant slug-thing compressed in a suit of armor.
  • Body Horror: The trademark of Xakhaz and his wicked sorcery.
  • Body of Bodies: Xakhaz takes you on with his new body, a disgusting amalgam of flesh, limbs, trunks and tentacles flaying around.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy:
    • Baron Tholdur is under the spell of Senyakhaz and completely unaware of what's really going on in his castle.
    • Subverted with the Spiked Maiden, she is aware of what's going on but she cannot do anything about it.
  • Cognizant Limbs: If you, for some unfathomable reason, decided to pick up a severed Blood-Lurcher's tentacle and put it in your sack, after some time you'll find out that it devoured some of your provisions to turn into a Death-Kiss Protoplasm which tries to latch on your face.
  • Combat Tentacles: The Mottled Kraken, the Blood Lurchers and, infamously, a woman-like mutant that spawns a mass of tentacles from her mouth (a picture which was removed from the book as it was considered too scary).
  • Covers Always Lie: While you do meet the Spiked Maiden, she's encountered inside the castle. Second, Neuburg Keep is on a hill in the middle of the city itself.
  • Deleted Scene: The infamous, deleted illustration for paragraph 50 (the encounter with the woman with the tentacles coming out of her mouth), which was left out because of its disturbing nature. Can be seen here at your own risk.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: One room in the dungeon reveal three beautiful girls that entertain you with a captivating dance, who're actually Senyakhaz and two illusions, trying to mesmerize you enough to lure you into a trap.
  • The Dragon: Senyakhaz is one to Xakhaz, who's blocked in the cavernous dungeons beneath the castle.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Since Xakhaz spends the story as a Sealed Evil in a Can, it is Senyakhaz who drives the plot, leading the Southern Warriors, making Baron Tholdur her slave while passing as his adviser, reviving him, and helping him prepare his return. Xakhaz is only faced after she is dealt with.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The incomprehensible alien hideousness of the grotesque ancient horrors stalking Neuberg is enough to rip a man's mind into tatters of madness on sight before they do the same to his body.
    • Xakhaz himself takes the cake. His new makeshift body is a humongous, writhing, grotesque amalgamation of monstrous body parts, defying logic.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The Vitriol Essence is a humanoid being entirely made of corrosive liquid.
  • Evil Weapon:
    • The Runic Axe forces you to fight all your opponents to the death.
    • The sword of Vlax the Slayer still hosts the soul of the bloodthirsty owner in the hilt and will possess you if you wield it.
  • Excalibur in the Rust: The "broken fork" you can find in the stall of an old Goblin merchant is actually the spearhead of the Trident of Skarlos, the most useful item in the story.
  • Femme Fatalons: The Spiked Maiden rakes at you with the massive, talon-like fingers of her gauntlets.
  • Giant Spider: A massive one is summoned by Senyakhaz, but is really an illusion.
  • In the Hood: Senyakhaz in the throne room of Tholdur, hiding, among various things, her real gender.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The Trident of Skarlos, if you manage to find both its components (and the spearhead is mandatory to find the handle): it was made to kill undead and sorcerous creatures, which means it gives you more Skill, deals extra damage to those foes and restores some of your Willpower and Luck upon finding it. It also really enjoys ripping Xakhaz's undead body apart.
  • Light 'em Up: The Talisman of Loth, which you're encouraged to find and can be obtained halfway through, allows you to dazzle certain enemies with its light, reducing their Skill by 2.
  • Lovecraft Country: A menacing town of unfriendly and paranoid folks secretly harboring ancient horrors older than mankind? Neuberg is a medieval Innsmouth in all but name.
  • Mad Scientist: Xakhaz is one mixed with Evil Sorcerer, given his penchant for grotesque hybrids.
  • Master of Illusion: Senyakhaz is incredibly skilled with this type of magic. You can uncover her if you have the Trident of Skarlos.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: You can end up killing people who were out to help you, and you will end up if you wield the Runic Axe. You can also get a second-rate ending if you smash the portal machine in Senyakhaz's room, which means that you won't be able to reach Xakhaz.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Xakhaz is an evil sorcerous mad-scientist revenant cultist with a body made of spare bodyparts and tentacles. Plays against him, as he's both undead and a sorcerous creation, which means that the Trident of Skarlos will butcher him like there's no tomorrow.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Going insane if your Willpower is under 6 and you fail a test, regardless of the situation.
  • Poison Mushroom: One of the potions you can drink is a diet concoction for the Baron, which will render you unable to consume food and rations for the rest of the adventure (so, no more healing).
  • Press X to Die: In paragraph 1, you're free to ignore the unseen man who's trying to cut your ropes to help you escape. If you do, you will die horribly two paragraphs later. Too Dumb to Live defined...
  • Prongs of Poseidon: The Trident of Skarlos subvert the first two types mentioned in the trope description: it's a Dwarven weapon made of a blueish metal which can be used with one hand, must be assembled and deals extra damage to sorcerous creatures or undead.
  • Red Herring: A Downplayed example, despite the insistence of Oidan's clerics, the Talisman of Loth only gives you a minor combat bonus against Xakhaz, while the unmentioned Trident of Skarlos is far more useful.
  • Samus Is a Girl: You find out near the end that Senyakhaz, the person responsible for Tholdur's situation and for kickstarting the whole mess, is a rather beautiful woman and a skilled knife-fighter.
  • Sanity Meter: Willpower, which decreases as you're faced by the nightmarish beasts dwelling Neuburg.
  • Sinister Scimitar:
    • The sword of Vlax the Slayer, which results in Demonic Possession if you wield it.
    • Also, the warriors from Zagoula patrolling Neuburg are armed with scimitars.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Spiked Maiden. Zigzagged in that she's the sweetest girl ever, but it's the armor itself that controls her.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: If you didn't find the Trident of Skarlos or the Talisman of Loth, but you did find a green luminous orb, you can One-Hit Kill Xakhaz by throwing him the orb, which will detonate in the middle of his body.
  • Survival Horror: While it may not play all the tropes of the genre right, this book seems a hybrid of this and the standard heroic fantasy story. The Willpower points probably help.
  • Thinking Up Portals: A portal machine in Senyakhaz' lab allows you to reach either Zagoula or Xakhaz's crypt.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Neuburg under Xakhaz's threat, with terrified people, murderous street urchins, hostile guards and monstrous abominations shambling in the night, looking for blood.
  • Tunnel King: Subverted; digging through the dirt under the pavement of your cell does lead you somewhere else... namely, into a deeper, locked out part of the keep, forcing you to return to your cell. On the bright side, it is the same area that contains the handle of the Trident of Skarlos, which is incredibly useful for your quest.
  • The Undead: A good number of the enemies you encounter are undead of some kind.
  • War God: Oiden, whose followers are on your side, is highly implied to be this.
  • Weapon of X-Slaying: The Trident of Skarlos was made to destroy the undead and abomination created through sorcery.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In Neuburg you may end up fighting some murderous, knife-wielding street urchins for your life.


Example of: